Recent Safety Improvements in Roslindale Square – An Explainer

Flex Posts Around Adams Park

Flex Posts Around Adams Park

Though some safety improvements still remain to roll out in Roslindale Square, especially regarding the relocation of certain bus stops, the final condition has come into clear focus recently with the installation of flexposts to help delineate and reinforce the paint that was put down by our friends at BTD in the late spring/summer. Now that the dust is partially settling, this seems like a good time to explain what has been installed and why.

The “tl;dr” version is that these improvements reduce the likelihood of serious injuries or fatalities caused by cars driving through the square. They also make it more pleasant and fun to walk around, which is key to WalkUP’s mission! The longer version below:

  1. This is traffic calming, because speed kills. To protect everyone using our streets, the most effective thing we can do is to slow the speed of the motor vehicles using them, so that everyone can be and feel safer. For everyone not in a vehicle, the speed we really want to get the motor vehicles to is about 20 mph. Because once you get motor vehicles going over 20 mph, things get ugly real fast. This chart illustrates why:

This is why slowing vehicle speeds is such an important part of the city’s Vision Zero program that aims to eliminate fatal and serious traffic crashes on Boston’s streets by 2030.

2. The fundamental basis of traffic calming. The way to slow vehicle speeds is two-fold: First, set the speed limit to the speed you want motor vehicles to go. While a citywide 25 mph default speed limit isn’t perfect, it is clearly better than the 30 mph limit we previously had for decades. Second, redesign every street to provide the physical and visual cues needed for drivers of motor vehicles to slow down and meet that speed limit. Note that we didn’t mention enforcement here. That’s because we can’t really rely on close enforcement long-term in any location (BPD has a lot on its hands) and enforcement carries with it its own concerns about equity. An analogy that is often made in this context is to the incredible strides in airline safety that have occurred over the last couple of decades, to the point where you can count on one hand the number of fatalities on U.S. commercial airlines in that period. This success has come largely from treating every single crash as worthy of investigation and analysis and then making systemic changes based on the conclusions drawn every time. We know slower vehicle speeds will lead to fewer fatal and serious crashes. Everything we do to slow vehicles makes us all safer.

3. The physical and visual cues needed are fairly straightforward. They are, in fact, now on the ground in the square. They include:

  • street diets” to reduce the amount of undifferentiated asphalt that decades of auto-centric transportation management have left us, while simultaneously shortening the distance that pedestrians need to cross a street and tightening turns at intersections so that drivers have to slow down to take them. Reducing the number of lanes that crosswalks have to cross also reduces the “double-threat” of a car driver stopping for a crossing pedestrian in one lane, blocking the view of that pedestrian from the adjacent lane, and the car driver in the adjacent lane crashing into the pedestrian. The idea here is that we’re dealing with city streets, not interstate highways;
  • crosswalk daylighting” to allow drivers to see pedestrians and pedestrians to see drivers. This is done by prohibiting parking within 10 to 15 feet of the crosswalk on the approaching side; and
  • flexposts to physically reinforce these improvements. Flexposts have been around a long time, but have recently become the go-to way to provide inexpensive yet fast, effective safety improvements. Note that they can be driven over by emergency vehicles if necessary.

Finally, an additional measure that the current plans do not do enough to implement is real, protected cycling infrastructure to further reduce the priority given to motor vehicles and provide meaningful alternatives to those wanting to travel by bicycle. In-street bicycle lanes are present on parts of Washington, South, and Corinth, but they quickly devolve to sharrows, which may (unfortunately) do more harm that good. Much more is needed.

The following photos illustrate the above points:

Crosswalk daylighting on South, at the connection between the municipal parking lot and the area leading to the Village Market.

Flexposts on the curve at South/Poplar help shorten the crossing distance and clarify that this is a single lane approach that widens only after the crosswalk.

Flexposts again delineate the single-lane approach on South, reinforcing the yield required of drivers coming from Washington and once again shortening the crossing distance.

Tragedy leads to clarity in South Boston…and maybe citywide?

Vision Zero BostonEveryone concerned about traffic violence in Boston, which touches every part of our city, every day, day-in, and day-out, felt incredible sadness at the tragedy late last month in South Boston in which a crash on L Street between reckless drivers resulted in one of them driving onto the curb and killing a 3 year-old boy and injuring his sister. There have been similar tragedies around the city over the years, taking both the young (such as the 5-month old girl killed on Humboldt Street in Roxbury a couple of years ago) and the elderly (such as one of our own neighbors here in Roslindale in 2016) and everyone in between. For whatever reason, perhaps because with Vision Zero as the city’s adopted policy for the last several years, we all have a better collective vocabulary and understanding that these crashes constitute a form of traffic violence that degrades our public spaces and puts us all under threat every time we venture out onto our streets, this tragedy seemed to hit a particularly raw nerve.

And such is that nerve that first-term District 2 City Councilor Ed Flynn has quickly stepped up his game on safe streets to a level that I think every City Councilor will have to match if they aren’t already. Go read “Flynn Recommends 12 Point Safe Streets Plan” over at Caught in Southie and then consider whether the 12 point safe streets plan he is pushing for in that neighborhood deserves to be rolled out, as quickly as humanly possible, to every street in every neighborhood of this city. Below, I have converted the 12 points he raised to a generic list that could be applied anywhere:

  1. A complete traffic study of ________________ and all high traffic roads. [NOTE: This works only if it’s done in the background while proven traffic calming measures are advanced right away, and isn’t ultimately used as a way to force more vehicular traffic through the neighborhoods at higher speeds.]
  2. Reducing the speed limit to 20 MPH throughout all of ____________. [NOTE: Exactly. The recent shift to 25 mph was a compromise. We really should be at 20 mph.]
  3. Speed humps (permanent or temporary to move for plows) and raised crosswalks along _________ and other high traffic roads, near parks and recreation centers where children and seniors gather. [NOTE: Speed humps should be permanent wherever they go. I continue not to see why plowing in Boston is different than the many other snow belt places in North America and really anywhere else that already have speed humps and raised crosswalks.]
  4. 4-way stop signs along _________ and relevant locations throughout ________.
  5. Additional posting of Speed Board Signs on high traffic roads throughout _________ for feedback to reduce speeds.
  6. Blinking Pedestrian Crossing signs at high traffic areas like we have on _____________.
  7. Bumping out our sidewalks at crosswalks on ___________, school zones and elsewhere to shorten crosswalks, make stop signs more visible & narrow our streets to encourage slower speeds.
  8. Road Diets on ___________, one lane from ____________, and speed humps in appropriate locations.
  9. Increased police patrols in order to reduce speed. Increased fines for driving the wrong way on a one-way street and trucks on ____________. [NOTE: It would be good to have more enforcement, but this fight is ultimately about rectifying decades of bad, unsafe street design. Relying on enforcement also raises concerns about profiling of both people of color and immigrants.]
  10. More delineators in high traffic areas reminding drivers to stop for pedestrians; paint in the roads advising drivers to slow, yield and stop.
  11. A Study to determine if _______________ would become safer if they became one-way streets.  [NOTE: I would not support this in my own neighborhood. Narrow two-way streets, also called “Yield Streets,” are perhaps the most effective method of low-tech traffic calming we have.]
  12. Designated time and space for delivery trucks on ________________ to eliminate double parking. [NOTE: Better curb space management needs to be implemented on essentially every street in our city, but especially on major commercial streets.]

 

An important milestone to our south – NY’s Plaza Program Turns 10

There’s an excellent piece linked over at Public Square celebrating the 10th anniversary of the pathbreaking NYC program that has turned excess pavement into plazas at dozens of locations throughout the city. Check it out at “Reflections on 10 years of the NYC plaza program.” It’s a pretty short read and draw your own conclusions, but I was reminded, yet again, of three things about this program:

  1. It really has been wildly successful. If you’ve been to Times Square in the last 5 years, you’ve been treated to the marquee example of the program in the several blocks of pedestrian areas that were inserted into a “square” that had been, for many decades, little more than the meeting of 3 major traffic sewer mains. I grew up in NY and can well attest that it was a shock when I heard that something was finally happening there. The pedestrian experience had been so horrible for so long that I had long since given up any real hope that it would ever change. But change it did. And not even Bill DeBlasio’s 2015 bizarro flirtation with scrapping it in his car-culture-fever to protect New Yorkers and the tourists who flock to Times Square from – gasp – risque costumes could make an impression on a place so instantly loved and vigorously defended.
  2. It has demonstrated the value of tactical urbanism many times over. Tactical urbanism is perhaps the most significant innovation in urban planning and design in this century. Briefly stated, the approach calls for making fast, incremental, light, inexpensive changes in the public realm, observing how they work, adjusting, and then working on long-term interventions based on those results. Here again, Times Square is a worthwhile poster child – the initial intervention there consisted of cones, cheap beach chairs, and movable planters, placed overnight to open up several former blocks of Broadway to pedestrians. Nothing fancy, but people on foot absolutely ate it up. They stood, they sat, they lingered, they chatted. It was instantly amazing.
  3. We here in Boston have lagged, but we are starting to get with this program. As I write this post, the Boston Transportation Department is putting the finishing touches on a TU-based intervention on Franklin Street downtown. You can find pictures and a play-by-play on twitter from Marc Ebuna at Transit Matters. BTD is working on several others and is also getting set to roll out a public-private partnership program very similar to NYC’s in the next few months. More to come!

New Neighborhood Slow Streets Round announced for 2018 – Deadline is August 24, 2018

The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) has just announced the 2018 Neighborhood Slow Streets (NSS) process and is inviting applications. In brief, applications are due August 24, 2018, and there’s a streamlined process this time, especially for areas that submitted last year. We here at WalkUP Roslindale were actively involved in encouraging all parts of our neighborhood to apply for the program in its initial phase and were delighted when the Mt. Hope/Canterbury area garnered a selection. We heartily encourage everyone who applied last year, but didn’t receive the nod (we’re looking at you, LANA, Lower South Street, and the Cornell Street area) to go for it again. As we have said more than once here at WalkUP Roslindale, the program really should go to every neighborhood citywide asap. Be that as it may, as long as we have the current system, everyone who can pull together the requisite focused area and community support should absolutely throw their hat in the ring and see what happens!

And we should take heart from the below images of the installed results over in the Stonybrook area of Jamaica Plain – one of the 2 initial pilot areas for NSS along with the Talbot-Norfolk Triangle in Dorchester. All of these elements – speed humps, diverters, and daylighted crosswalks – would be of use in every single residential neighborhood of this city. Every. Single. One. Anyone interested in applying should feel free to contact us at info@nullwalkuproslindale.org. We will be happy to help your application in any way we can, whether it’s through peer-to-peer technical assistance or anything else we can do. Thanks!

Photo 1 – Crosswalk daylighting.

Photo 2 – Diverter to prevent wrong-way cut-through traffic.

Photo 3 – A recently-installed speed hump (there are several in this area)!!! Would, however, prefer the sign to be located in a way that it didn’t take up sidewalk, but that’s a minor quibble right now.

Vision Zero Steps Up in Roslindale

Vision Zero BostonAs part of the Mayor’s Vision Zero Boston initiative, Boston Public Works will make some significant pedestrian infrastructure improvements in the village this coming week, beginning Tuesday, April 24. We are extremely excited to be officially entering “Phase I” of this process, and appreciate the City’s efforts in engaging with WalkUP and the community at large to help advance our vision of making Roslindale the most walkable neighborhood in Boston. The safety upgrades we will see this week were set in motion, at least in part, by our neighborhood Walk Audit back in 2015.

In particular, much of the Square will be re-paved and re-painted this week. If all goes according to plan, we will see two new crosswalks corresponding to some well-tread desire lines — one at the bottom of the steps coming down from the commuter rail station, crossing Belgrade Ave, thus creating a straight shot pedestrian route from the T to the soon-to-open (can’t wait!) Distraction Brewing Company at the corner of Belgrade and Birch (previously Emac and Bolio’s as well as the Select Café space). Another new crosswalk should appear connecting the Taft Hill municipal lot to the Village Market area, crossing South Street mid-block between Taft Hill and Belgrade. Indeed, this archival photo (perhaps from the mid-1980’s, showing then-City Councilor Thomas Menino across from now-753 South Street) shows that we once had a crosswalk here, so it’s great to get it back!

Tom Menino in Roslindale With Crosswalk

Tom Menino in Roslindale With Crosswalk

Particularly exciting is that we will also be getting our first raised crosswalk in the village, at the corner of Belgrade and Birch Street.

Two additional notes:

  • We expect most of this work to happen late and overnight. While this may be a short-term noise hardship for those living nearby, it means the work will be done much faster — with cooperative weather and no unpleasant surprises, hopefully in less than a week. We support the City’s decision to get this work done quickly, which will allow us to enjoy the benefits quite soon and also minimize daytime impact on village businesses. Earplugs can be purchased at Sullivan’s Pharmacy for pennies a pair!
  • Part of this “Phase I” effort also involves improving the locations of the village bus stops and installing flexposts to better protect “daylighted” areas. For various logistical reasons, these steps will roll out as “Phase I(b)” — not this coming week, but (we hope) in the very near future. Stay tuned for more info on this front.

Implementation of Vision Zero and Go Boston 2030 is now beginning in earnest

Vision Zero BostonWith yesterday’s announcement by the Mayor’s Office and the Boston Transportation Department that BTD’s requested budget will be increased by $5 million annually starting in FY 2019 (i.e., July 1 of this year), we can all now safely say that the implementation of Vision Zero and Go Boston 2030, the major mobility policy and plan that took the better part of the administration’s first term to develop and adopt, has begun in earnest.

Check out the full announcement, Mayor Walsh announces transformative investments. There are quotes from the Mayor, State Rep. Russell Holmes, Roslindale’s own City Councilor at Large Michelle Wu, Sam Tyler from the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, and BTD Commissioner Gina Fiandaca. There is also what I view to be the money quote from Chief of Streets Chris Osgood, as follows:

To manage our region’s growth, to address climate change, and to increase equity, we know we need to transform our transportation system. Building off the Go Boston 2030 plan, this set of investments is a major step towards that goal. It increases investment in the basics of our streets, such as well-timed traffic signals, smooth roads and good sidewalks, and it builds out a team that can help more people get around our city by bus, bike, car or foot.”

As can be seen, this really is a big step forward and worth the attention it’s getting. The additional funding, proposed to be generated by increasing the penalties associated with a carefully constructed list of major parking and traffic violations, is significant. (And we here at WalkUP Roslindale are excited to see the Roslindale Gateway Path cited as a key GreenLink eligible for some of the new capital funding.) But even more significant is what much of the new funding is intended to be spent on – “building out a team that can help more people get around our city by bus, bike, car or foot” – a team that includes:

  • 6 new staff to form a “Transit Team” led by a “transit coordinator” that will plan, facilitate, implement, and maintain bus improvements like the Washington Street pilot in several more corridors across the city;
  • One new traffic signal engineer to manage and re-time traffic signals to increase safety, and reduce traffic congestion and related vehicle emissions;
  • Two new traffic signal mechanics to keep signals working as designed;
  • Two new planners and two new engineers to focus on designing and implementing key Vision Zero programs, such as Neighborhood Slow Streets, and efforts to make quick improvements to some of Boston’s most challenging intersections; and
  • Up to four new maintenance & operations personnel to ensure that infrastructure added to improve street safety, such as pedestrian delineators and flex posts, are kept in a state of good repair.

All of that new dedicated staff should be music to anyone’s ears who was concerned that the combination of Vision Zero and Go Boston 2030 were more ambitious undertakings than BTD had staff or resources to implement. It is now clear that the Mayor and his administration intend to make good on the promise the policy and plan embody. He and they are to be applauded and thanked for taking this important step. We here at WalkUP Roslindale look forward to supporting the budget request before the City Council and then doing everything we can to help the Mayor and BTD implement both Vision Zero and Go Boston 2030 in our neighborhood. We recommend that you do the same!

“Kids need safe streets” – Video from Brooklyn Rally

Powerful video here on a well-attended march to protest traffic violence from Brooklyn, where 2 young children were killed last week while walking in a crosswalk with their mothers by a reckless driver with a long history of moving violations, including speeding in school zones, though this crash occurred at a regular crosswalk. Considering what has happened in our city and region recently, we need to consider, seriously and candidly, whether we are doing enough to stop traffic violence and protect everyone on our streets – every senior, every child, every person with mobility issues, and, really, every single one of us – who isn’t in a motor vehicle. I’m afraid that the answer is no. We must do more and we most do it more quickly. I’m with the commenter who says they don’t want safety changes to wait until the next tragedy. We need them everywhere now. Now. NOW.

Two personal notes: (1) Park Slope, where the most recent tragedy occurred, happens to be the neighborhood I grew up in; and (2) folks who have worked with LivableStreets Alliance over the last couple of years will recognize Nidhi Gulati, who recently relocated to NY, at about the 4:00 mark in the video.

The Right to Walk

Our friends at Streetfilms offer The Right to Walk for your viewing pleasure. It’s 4:53 of to-the-point, quick-hit, smart thinking about why walking is so critical to every city’s health. And is also does make me wonder what percentage of the total transportation budget in our own city of Boston is devoted to walking, cycling, and transit?

The Roslindale Pedestrian/Cycling/Transit Infrastructure Report – Inaugural Edition

Going forward, WalkUP Roslindale will try to keep a current inventory of improvements to our neighborhood’s pedestrian, cycling, and transit infrastructure. Accordingly, as of 26 February 2018, the below is what we’re aware of:

  • Flashing Beacon Crosswalks – 3 (complete: Washington/Blue Ledge, Washington/Basile, Washington/South of Ukraine); 3 (partially complete: Centre Street adjacent to the Arboretum)
  • Buffered Bike Lanes – 1.3 miles (N/S on American Legion from Cummins to HP Avenue; N on Washington from WR Parkway to Beech)
  • Protected Bike Lanes – 3.0 miles (E/W on Blackwell Shared Use Path; Arborway from Arboretum Gate to South Street; Arborway from Orchardhill to Forest Hills Cemetery)
  • Speed humps – 0
  • Raised crosswalks – 0
  • Daylighted Crosswalks – 3 (Washington/Blue Ledge, Belgrade/South, Washington/Basile)
  • Bus Priority Facilities – 1 (operational bus/bike lane pilot in December on Washington from Cummins to Ukraine – multi-week pilot expected this spring)
  • Hubway Stations – 0 (hopefully some to come later this year)

We welcome any additions/subtractions to this list. Thanks!!

Some pretty good urbanism reading on a long holiday weekend

Check out this article from a self-identified conservative professor of philosophy:

Philosopher embraces New Urbanism.

In brief, these concepts and the benefits that flow from them aren’t just for Dirty Hippies, Slackers, and Hipsters. And contemplate for a moment how closely the streetcar neighborhood in Grand Rapids resembles our own patch of this earth in terms of the richness of accessible amenities. I’ll just leave the opening preamble of the Charter of the New Urbanism, quoted in the article, here while noting that even as Boston’s population grows and the initial issue is not so much about private disinvestment, we still struggle with bringing our city’s politics, policies, and actions around to meet the challenges that remain:

The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.